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Mixed reactions to $61b package
Various sectors of the society have weighed in on initiatives announced in the budget on Monday. Environmentalists, members of the creative industries and the leader of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Orville London all shared their views on the aspects of the $61.3 billion fiscal package and how it will impact on their respective areas.
After the budget presentation on Monday, London said Tobago received what it normally gets, which is the minimum of 4.03 per cent of the GDP. He, however, highlighted some omissions which he said caused him concern. He said with a development allocation just over $300 million, the assembly would be unable to treat with the developmental thrust for the THA.
“And, therefore, I am concerned the minister has made no mention of the plans relating to the Tobago House of Assembly in finding ways and means to meet our development needs and to access resources,” he said. London said the THA has been advising Finance Minister Larry Howai that it wants the authority to access to loans and grants and to get involved in public/private enterprises. He said if the THA does not get those concessions its developmental thrust will be frustrated.
London also raised concerns with respect to Caribbean Airlines (CAL). “I am also a little concerned with the situation with respect to Caribbean Airlines. Or rather about the relationship between Caribbean Airlines and the Tobago House of Assembly and the commitment of CAL to the kinds of policies that will assist the tourism sector.” He said he was very alarmed over the upgrades to ANR Robinson International Airport which are still to be done.
If “very serious” signals are not sent to the international community about the upgrade, he said, “it will make us even less competitive with respect to our very aggressive competitors in this very dynamic sector.” Tobago was allocated $3.3 billion. Plans for the revitalisation of its economy included the development and expansion of the airport and “the resuscitation of the tourism sector through the allocation of a further $50 million to the Loan Guarantee Fund which had an initial capitalisation of $100 million.”
Howai announced increased fines for littering and illegal quarrying on private lands. While environmentalist and former managing director/CEO of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) Dr Joth Singh said it was heartening that the Government was taking an interest in the environment, he believes the issue of enforcement needs to be addressed for the increased fines to be effective.
Howai announced that, on summary conviction, people found guilty of illegal quarrying will now have to pay a fine of $500,000, and $700,000 for subsequent convictions. The fine for those who purchase from an illegal operator will now be $500,000.
He also proposed to increase the penalties for illegal quarrying of asphalt or other materials on state lands. The fine for illegal removal of asphalt will be increased from $120,000 to $300,000 and or subsequent convictions from $250,000 to $500,000. For material other than asphalt, the fine will be increased from $60,000 to $120,000 and the fines for subsequent conviction will be increased from $120,000 to $300,000. He also said all fines for littering will be doubled from January 1.
Singh said in a phone interview with the T&T Guardian on Wednesday he was encouraged by these increases. He said there was a need for police as well as investigators for the EMA and the Ministry of Energy to investigate cases of illegal quarrying. A mechanism, he said, needs to be developed for the enforcement of litter fines in T&T. Littering, he said, was ubiquitous throughout T&T.
The T&T Guardian’s environmental columnist Marc de Verteuil of Papa Bois Conservation said there was nothing encouraging in the budget related to the environment. With respect to illegal quarrying, he said, the fine should have been looked at in relation to the money earned from that sector. The increased fine was nothing but a slap on the wrist, he felt, and illegal quarry operators should be fined $1 million per day.
“These illegal quarries make millions of dollars on profits,” he said, and the amendments should have also included prison sentences. He was disappointed that there was little said on recycling and no discussion on closing the Beetham and Guanapo Dumps and creating a landfill in Forres Park. De Verteuil was hopeful about the Government’s proposed CNG plan. He cautioned the Government to be mindful that the 1,000 acres in Guyana to be devoted to agriculture for T&T was not rainforest land.
Howai said institutional framework for the industry was strengthened with the establishment of the T&T Creative Industries Ltd and its subsidiaries and “will spearhead the growth and business development of the creative industries.” Fabien Alfonso, president of the Recording Industry Association, said the Government has recognised there was huge earning potential in the creative industries and the country's cultural products can contribute to GDP.
Saying there was one umbrella company which would now encompass a music company, a film company and a fashion company, he said stakeholders were willing to partner with anyone who was willing to partner with them. Alfonso said he was happy that the Creative Industries Co Ltd was moved away from the Ministry of Culture and demonstrated that the Government understood the commercial aspect of the industry.
Asked about incorporating other creative industries into the company, Alfonso said that model had been used previously through the T&T Entertainment Company Ltd and he was not sure how it had worked. With this new model, he said, there are products that can meet international standards that can be marketed immediately. However, Alfonso said any company needs a strategic plan and that the plan must encompass blueprints, goals and weaknesses.
Vice-president of the National Drama Association of T&T and resident director at the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in Belmont, Timmia Hearn-Feldman said, however, that the budget statement was a huge disappointment and a National Arts Council or entities which would distribute funds to various cultural initiatives should have, instead, been created.
In a phone interview with the T&T Guardian yesterday, Hearn-Feldman said the creation of an arts council would facilitate funding across the industry. Fashion, film and music, she said, are not the only areas in need of support.
Many of the country’s playwrights, writers, dancers and painters among others have been internationally recognised. Hearn-Feldman said the Government’s focus should not be on only the monetary aspect of the industry but on the impact it could have in assisting many of the societal ills currently plaguing the country.
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